Adeola Olagunju On A Storytelling Mission
Adeola Olagunju is a Nigerian artist who lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria. After earning a degree in Fine and Applied Arts (Graphic Design) in 2009, she worked as a graphic artist for some advertising agencies in Lagos. Working primarily with photography, her artistic practice encompasses a range of media like video, painting and collage. She explores themes around her environment, self and memory with a documentary and conceptual approach. Olagunju has undertaken residencies at Kuona Trust Centre for Visual Art in Nairobi, Kenya and the Lagos Photo Summer School exchange programme in Berlin, Germany. She has also participated in several photography master classes and exhibitions, both locally and internationally.
Olagunju was one of 56 women selected from among 170 international nominees from 59 countries, for the Joop Swart Masterclass organized by World Press Photo 2016, a prestigious event aimed at bringing together established photojournalits with young, promising photographers to share and pass on their knowledge and experience. She is also a recipient of the Lagos Photo Festival Award (2012) and the Young Art Fund Amsterdam Award (2013). Earlier this year, Olagunju was the first runner-up at the British Council’s Your Ad Here billboard competition in May. She recently exhibited her works alongside others at the Summer photography exhibition, Dey Your Lane-Lagos Variations at the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels where the Executive Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency Akinwunmi Ambode was special guest of honour.
What led you to study fine and applied arts, and why did you choose an institution relatively young in that course of study?
Curiosity led me to the visual arts, and I was lucky to attend a university interested in visual art and technology.
Is anyone in your family artistic and are you related to Wole Olagunju, the former Daily Times cartoonist?
Everyone in my family is artistic in their own rights and no, I am not related to Mr. Wole Olagunju.
When and did you choose photography as your preferred medium of artistic expression?
I started photography from my university days.
You have participated in several national and international photography workshops. How did this start and how have these varied experiences and knowledge impacted your work and career?
Being able to learn from different platforms has helped in many ways. I am now a better artist and photographer; I think globally when working and I am conscious and deliberate in my approach.
Among the 171 young international photographers, 56 of them were women, from which you were the only Nigerian nominated for participation in the Joop Swart Masterclass organized in 2016 by World Press Photo. How did you feel about this even though you were not eventually a finalist?
It is a beautiful feeling to be acknowledged for the works I produce!
To be nominated was soothing enough, it is some sort of validation that people love my works.
Before you set out to photograph a subject,place or scene, do you usually have a plan or do things pan out organically?
It works both ways. There is usually a mental sequence of how I want things to work. During the process however, some unplanned things also show up.
You seem to favour conceptual and reportage photography. Why these choices, do they help in getting international exposure?
I am guided by stories. However, the manner of storytelling could be conceptual or documentary as long it is out there. Locally or internationally, people interested in my works consume then.
Black-and-white photography is more prevalent in your works. Is there any reason for this?
No special reason for that.
In 2012 you won the Lagos Photo Festival Award and in 2013, the Young Art Fund Amsterdam Award. What were the winning photographs and can you share your experience as a recipient of the awards?
The photographs were Attitude and Resurgence, respectively. Breaking new vistas is a conﬁdence booster, I got to believe more in my works as a result of receiving the awards.
The photographs were Attitude and Resurgence respectively.Breaking new vistas is a conﬁdence booster, I got to believe more in my works as a result of receiving the awards.
You have participated in two residency programmes in Berlin and Kenya. Any similarities and differences you experienced across continents?
Exploring a new terrain and assimilating new cultures and ideas were altogether helpful in shaping my artistic experience.
Paths and Patterns: Embodiment of the Traveller in Continuum Paradox held at the Kuona Trust Art Centre, Nairobi in 2014 was your first solo exhibition. What inspired this body of work?
The need to know and understand beliefs inspired the photography. Humans like objects become set in paths embedded in a constrained reality, and as they travel, the possible future which was once infinite, collapses to one unchangeable and inescapable outcome. Some call it fate others destiny…Our feet lead us there.
Paths and Patterns
You tell stories in your projects like, ‘A Day in the Life of Henry, Hausas of Idi-Araba’ ‘Resurgence: A Manifesto’ and your cerebral professional selfies in ‘Evolve’. What inspired them?
Some personal and communal stories inspired these projects. ‘Evolve’ was my first experiment with self portraiture, and the photography resulting from the workshop with the great photographer, Delphine Fawundu in 2012 where I had my spark/ lighting bulb moment placed me on the path I now travel. ‘A Day in The Life of Henry’ a photo story follows Henry who came to Lagos in 1997 in search of greener pastures. I set out documenting his work, hustle and hopes from dawn to dusk. ‘Hausas of Idi-Araba’ explores rural to urban migration and the distinct cosmopolitanism of Lagos through an intimate portrait of one neighbourhood. It is home to Muslim, Hausa people who moved to Lagos from the northern parts of the country over many generations. There is a continual stream of new residents, but the community has been in place for decades. Resurgence: A Manifesto is a series of photographic performances, which portrays the unacceptability and high level of socio-religious and political decadence in Africa. It is a focus on the quest for reawakening and awareness of our sense of identity, which I consider threatened.
Adeola Olagunju in Evolve self portraits
A Day in the Life of Henry. The story of a newspaper vendor
The Hausas of Idi-Araba
You were one of the international photographers who participated in the Azu Nwagbogu – curated 2016 summer exhibition, Dey your Lane: Lagos Variations at the BOZAR Museum, Brussels,Belgium alongside older professionals like Ike Ude, Andrew Dosunmu and Akintunde Akinleye. How did your viewers react to your works?
The viewers reacted positively to my works and those of the others as well. It was a great privilege exhibiting alongside those older colleagues.
The Executive Governor of Lagos State Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode was the special guest of honour at the show. Did it hold any significance for you and will there be a continuous dialogue between the visual arts and Lagos?
It does hold a great signiﬁcance as I see it as the beginning of a beautiful and inclusive artistic exchange.To see a government ofﬁcial, the governor himself taking the arts seriously, is quite exhilarating and positive. We need to be supported and encouraged.
Adeola Olaguju and Governor Ambode at BOZAR, Belgium
Azu Nwabogwu, Governor Ambode and other guests at the BOZAR exhibition
You have exhibited across Africa, Europe and America, gaining recognition as a young female photographer having just graduated from art school just 7 years ago. What drives you?
A deep passion for my craft and constant rediscovery drive me.
Are you planning a coffee table book or documentary film to share your photographs?
That sounds good to me! Someday surely.
Are you planning another solo exhibition soon?
Yes, I plan to have a solo exhibition in early 2017 in Lagos, Nigeria.
Adeola Olagunju at the Dey Your Lane Exhibition at the BOZAR Brussels, Belgium
Photography credits: Adeola Olagunju.
December 20, 2021
December 13, 2021